You can call it the black market, the grey market, or whatever you want, but it’s the only way for many to get cannabis, and cultivators are inventing smart and safe ways to service consumers.
Few are better at adapting to change and adversity than the rapidly moving cannabis industry. This is of course the case right now in the Mass recreational market, especially the backdrop—the black or grey market, or as enthusiasts refer to it, the “craft” market.
Small businesses in this big pond are trying to stay afloat by bringing new creative sales tactics and techniques from the farm to the table. This is the age of entrepreneurship; ingenuity is the basis of success in the modern world. If you can think outside the box, it’s more than likely you can figure out how to get over roadblocks.
For these interviews, I spoke with a few industry tastemakers who are making it work behind the scenes during the COVID-19 pandemic (their responses have been edited and anonymized for clarity and their protection, respectively). From social distancing, to home and online test kits, to stashing and dashing, the stoner community always finds a way.
Question: What adversity or prosperity has the craft market faced since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Answer: To be honest, the sales techniques have had to really take a change. We’ve had to adapt our structure so there’s minimal person-to-person contact—not only for our safety, but for our patients and consumers. We help a lot of people with autoimmune disorders, COPD, and asthma problems and we take extra care with every step. We’re doing non face-to-face donations and are using apps such as Venmo, Cash App, PayPal, but if someone uses cash, we’re doing the no hand-to-hand method, meaning door drops and grab bags. This way we can actually sterilize and reduce contact.
Also, people trust to give donations for things up front. We’ve built a good reputation, so that has been key. Since some people may want to avoid contact all together, just pay in advance and do a quick drop off. Other than that, it’s really just about getting the word out like always.
As far as CBD shipping, it’s been slowed down quite a bit. Obtaining ingredients for our recipes has also been difficult, as stores have low stock available. Bartering has also worked its way into our daily life—if we can’t find something we need, we try to source and trade for it. Since people are home, it’s definitely improving our reach and network because everyone is online and home wanting to medicate. We’re working on new strategies to communicate through Zoom and other outlets. I’d have to say it all comes down to creativity and how you go about it.
Q: What is your current goal and what else are you doing regarding consumers’ health and well-being?
A: We take the steps to sterilize any equipment, utensils, and our hands regularly. We’re fine with this becoming the procedure now because it always has been for us and isn’t the new normal in the kitchen, but this way at least we are taking all the extra precautions needed to provide as clean and safe of a product as possible.
We’re trying to make sure we go above and beyond. Professional kitchens normally have a strict policy for cleanliness and quality control measures, so we are taking things to the next level by making sure we have no cross-contamination, from using fresh gloves constantly and changing masks, using hair nets and all. I’d say that is one of the most important things any of us can pay attention to right now, proper etiquette.
Q: If recreational cannabis businesses were deemed essential, what do you think that would mean for your business?
A: It really depends. The thing is we’re on the edge of the grey market right now, so it depends what way you look at it. We’re still going to help our patients, and right now patients have high anxiety and they don’t want to go out into public spaces like dispensaries, so that is helping us because people are still in need and can’t access the medicine they normally have access to.
Q: If you could adapt or change any of the legalities within the state of Massachusetts cannabis markets what would they be and why?
A: I think it would be great to have more mom and pop stores and to see smaller companies gain licensing. I think that has always been the dream for many of us. We shouldn’t have to pay for a lawyer, application fees, jump through hoop after hoop to gain entry to the business. And for two, the cost associated with such licensing fees doesn’t line up with what most small businesses like myself can afford. I’m all for the micro businesses and mini brands thriving as much as the bigger brands.
I think it would be ideal if we could basically treat it like if it were a farmers market, where people can come and sell their locally grown and made goods, but by regulating it with age limits, door check in, stricter rules for attendance capacities, and exhibiting. It would make it so that no one underage could attend, but would provide itself as an outlet for people like us and could be a really great thing for our community.
Q: Without analytical labs open, what does the future of testing look like for edible makers?
A: This is a hard one. I think there are going to be a lot more smaller companies who have less strict policies on their edibles and potency now because the science just isn’t there. It’s not like it’s their fault, I mean there’s literally no place you can go to get your cannabis tested right now.
I think it’s going to come down to a portable lab testing agency that people can travel with and use anywhere. This way, if you can’t go to a cannabis testing facility, they’re not out of luck. This could be extremely important to consumers everywhere. At home test kits could be groundbreaking for this entire situation—even in the retail market, you can re-test at home.
Q: As our industry adjusts to these changes in society, what do you foresee being the likely outcome for small businesses?
A: Small businesses are going to prevail. I think the majority of entrepreneurs are already used to being thrown so many curveballs, they’re just swinging with the bat and seeing what they can hit. I know I am, and I’m just doing all I know. Even if it is hit or miss, at least we’re trying right now, which is better than allowing a pandemic to win and defeat small businesses one by one. I think that if we all come together as a small business community, we can help one another in a time or crisis in more ways than we realize. We are all facing the same struggle right now, which kind of puts many of us at an even playing field. Great things can happen when everyone on that field is working in synchronicity towards a bigger goal.
This article was produced in collaboration with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Pandemic Democracy Project.
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Bobby is a multiple award winning cannabis rights activist, celebrated journalist, and public speaker. Much of his notoriety stems from his passion for cannabis and concentrates. He has judged cannabis cups all across the United States and in 2014 he organized the first Secret Cup Beast Coast which was a tipping point for the culture. Having published over 200 related articles on the subjects, he is well versed. In 2015 he co-authored an advanced course curriculum for Northeastern institute of Cannabis. Bobby continues to organize his own events in New England and tirelessly educates the community at seminars and expos from coast to coast. His mission is to help set an overall quality standard in the industry and end the stigma surrounding cannabis use. Currently, you can find his writing in Dig Boston (DigBoston.com), ReLeaf Media (releaf.co), and other informative publications or news sources. For the second year he is an event director for Higher Education Music and Arts Festival 2020 and hosts Interpretasting in Massachusetts. Included, he is a project manager for Boston Cannabis Week 2020. Follow the 420 aficionado on Instagram @bobbynuggz_official